Ep. #3 - Rob Barbara on VC in Atlantic Canada, Management Principles, and Keeping Options Open


"...some of the things I love to encourage people to do is: to take risks; to do what you think is right; to have reasons why you do things; if you have reasons about why you do things then you don't have to ask for permission; if you don't ask for permission and something doesn't go well that's fine because it's easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission anyways. And all I expect as a boss is that if you make something that doesn't turn out well that's fine just don't do it again." - Rob Barbara

Today’s guest is Rob Barbara, who is currently a Managing Partner at Build Ventures in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a venture capital firm focused on emerging companies based in Atlantic Canada. 

Rob studied economics at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and did his MBA at the Ivey Business School at University of Western Ontario, before working in investment banking at TD Securities.  He followed that by founding a startup in the medical space, then doing investment management at Burgundy Asset Management, where he founded an internal startup called Beaujolais Private Investment Management, before moving back to Nova Scotia and starting Build Ventures.

I know Rob primarily through sailing, which he has pursued competitively for most of his life.  We cover his decision-making process through university and his career, why he didn’t enjoy investment banking, how his startup went, and the thesis behind Build Ventures.

I have yet to have a conversation with Rob that isn’t entertaining, and this one was no exception.  We had a couple technical difficulties to start with, but things really get going after that.

Where you can find Rob

Twitter | LinkedIn | Build Ventures

Selected links from episode:

Show notes

  • How Rob first got into sailing and why he loves it so much [2:03]

  • How sailing and investment apply the same principles [6:49]

  • How to develop the skills needed to succeed in investment and sailing [10:00]

  • Rob's "rule of three" and where he applies it [13:48]

  • How and why Rob chose to study economics at Queen's University [15:09]

  • Keeping options open and why it's important [19:33]

  • Why your peer group is so important [20:35]

  • Engaged vs. helicopter parenting, and the importance of experiential parenting [25:05]

  • What Rob learned from his first (and worst) job at Department of Fisheries and Oceans [32:23]

  • Rob's personal management principles [42:05]

  • Why investment banking didn't work for Rob, and the difference compared to investment management [43:47]

  • Rob's experience founding a startup during the dot-com boom [49:08]

  • How Rob founded a company-inside-a-company with Beaujolais Private Investment Management [56:22]

  • Why Rob moved back to Halifax from Toronto and got started in venture capital with Build Ventures [1:02:03]

  • What makes Rob optimistic about venture capital in Atlantic Canada [1:11:44]

  • Rob's thoughts on whether there's enough venture capital money in Atlantic Canada [1:14:31]

  • The limitations of government-backed funds vs. privately-backed funds [1:19:25]

  • Rob's advice for startup founders in Atlantic Canada looking to raise investment [1:22:29]

  • Rob's favourite sailing event [1:27:31]

  • Three books that have had a big impact on Rob [1:30:14]

  • Rob's advice for a college student about to enter the real world [1:32:23]